Though Yalies assert that theirs is the greatest educational experience available, they seem to have an inferiority complex. It appears that many would rather return to the 1960s and are anxious to trade their Yale blue for the colors of UC-Berkeley or Kent State. Apparently Yale lacks better access to that all-important part of the “college experience”: protest and activism.
There is nothing inherently wrong in coupling one’s beliefs with action. Indeed, we would hope that Yalies would be willing to act on their convictions. What students fail to realize, however, is the important distinction between meaningful action and ill-conceived protest, the latter being a product of liberal infatuation with activism for activism’s sake.
To illustrate the point, look at an example of meaningful action for a meaningful cause: the Yale students who, as the News reported (“A military life for some Yalies,” 9/25), plan to enter the armed services upon graduation. These young men have the courage and moral fortitude to sacrifice everything to protect their country and her ideals. The type of action they will pursue — hunting down and eliminating anti-American terrorists, ridding the world of brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein — will be tremendously effective in bringing their ideals to fruition. This type of action deserves nothing but praise, and Yale should be proud of these students. It’s only a shame there aren’t more like them.
Now look at examples of the opposing camp. These are students who, as Baolu Lan correctly noted yesterday (“Liberals, listen and repeat: ‘Dining hall workers are not oppressed,'” 10/1), pursue activism out of a sense of privileged guilt. They are also the students who cling tightly to the overly-romanticized notion that the only way to be cool and politically active in college is to rise up in protest against “the Man.” These are the students who revere the hippies of Students for a Democratic Society, the students who can reliably be found toting a banner or sign wherever there are workers’ rights or baby seals to be defended against the capitalist onslaught.
The mistake of this attitude isn’t necessarily the ideas these students embrace, but instead the way they go about supporting them. It’s one thing to think that union workers deserve higher salaries; it’s quite another to break the law for it. The same goes for other pet causes — the tent city on the Green, the post-Sept. 11 anti-war protests, and the long-forgotten eyesore on Beinecke: Students Against Sweatshops. Even the anti-GESO signs, correct as their sentiment might have been, were out of place on the corner of College and Elm streets last week.
One has to ask: how does breaking city traffic laws help dining hall workers? How does choosing to pitch a tent on the Green help the people who have no choice in the matter? How does sleeping on Beinecke help the seamstresses in Guatemala? Unfortunately, these completely unrelated, entirely symbolic acts of protest provide no meaningful assistance to the people they are meant to support.
Furthermore, these causes hardly seem to merit such vocal reactions. We’re not talking about segregation, apartheid, colonialism or political prisoners. Even though Martin Luther King Jr. may have been a proponent of labor causes, the complaints of locals 34 and 35 would probably have registered as meaningless compared to the problems of black workers in the 1960s. Rosa Parks, Mohandas Gandhi and the students at Tiananmen Square would be embarrassed and ashamed by the banal trivialities that Yalies pass off as activist causes.
Last Wednesday, some 60 undergraduates were arrested in the so-called act of civil disobedience for Yale’s unions. The result? Sixty arrest records and $5,280 in fines payable to the state of Connecticut. These students would have accomplished much more by writing an open letter to President Levin in the New Haven Register and giving the money to union workers with financial problems.
But rather than engage in open dialogue, these self-styled activists felt the need to go for the emotional, knee-jerk “protest is cool, man” approach. It doesn’t matter whether or not the cause is noble; nor does it matter whether the activists will have any positive impact on the cause they claim to represent. The culture of Yale activism is all about the activists — their visibility, their opportunity to erase their privileged guilt, and their opportunity to make sure they don’t leave Yale without having been part of at least one good uprising against “the Man.”
So to those who were arrested on Wednesday, and to those who support them, think carefully about what you’re doing. It’s great for students to have strong convictions and beliefs, but college is the time to be thinking critically and engaging in open dialogue; protests don’t include either. Follow the example of your fellow students who, influenced by their intellectual endeavors here, are taking up support of their cause in meaningful ways after graduation. Because if standing in line on College Street and sleeping on the Green are the highlights of your college career, you certainly didn’t need to come to Yale to get that kind of college experience. Perhaps it’s not too late — UC-Berkeley accepts transfer students.
Meghan Clyne is a senior in Branford.